There is no greater fighter in men’s tennis than Rafael Nadal and the Spaniard added another chapter to his extraordinary story here last night. Despite suffering from dizziness, nausea and stomach cramps, Nadal clawed his way out of trouble to beat Tim Smyczek, a qualifier ranked No 112 in the world, after nearly four and a quarter hours.
When a forehand winner sealed his 6-2, 3-6, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5 second-round victory, Nadal sank to his knees, his eyes filling with tears. He said later that he had “suffered too much” during the match and had been very close to quitting.
Nadal had said before the tournament that he did not feel ready to win the title after playing so little tennis following a wrist injury and then the removal of his appendix. He blamed the hot and humid conditions for the sweat that drenched his shirt, but admitted that “something more” must have happened to make him feel so ill. He called the doctor on to the court, went for bathroom breaks and regularly doubled up in pain. Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, revealed afterwards that the world No 3 had been bitten beneath the eye by a mosquito in the build-up to the match.
“At the end of the first set, my body started to feel very bad, very tired,” Nadal said. “I was worrying crazy. Then when I was serving for the third, I almost threw up. It was a terrible feeling. I suffered too much on court for three hours and a half.”
Smyczek, a 27-year-old American who has never beaten a top 10 player, played the match of his life and had victory in his sights when he won the third set, having broken when Nadal served at 5-4. Nadal took a second bathroom break at the end of the 81-minute set and looked in despair towards his entourage when he returned.
The Spaniard appeared on the point of vomiting at several moments during the fourth set and opted for a big-hitting strategy in order to save his legs. By the end he was feeling a little better but still had to hold serve to stay in the match at 4-5 in the fifth set before a break at 5-5 enabled him to serve out for victory.
Smyczek sportingly gave Nadal another serve when a spectator called out as the Spaniard served at 6-5 and 30-0. Nadal called the American “a real gentleman” for his gesture, while Smyczek said the match proved what a great champion his opponent was. “He was sick and not playing well,” Smyczek said. “That was his C or D game. He found a way to win. So hats off to him. That’s why he’s one of the best.”
Nadal, who next faces Israel’s Dudi Sela, added: “All during my career it’s obvious that I was able to find solutions for tough moments. I was able to win matches where I was in trouble. Sure, it is an ability, but I worked very hard during all my career to resist, to try to be strong mentally.”
The match continued a long tale of misfortune for Nadal here. In 2006 he was unfit to play, in 2007 he suffered a leg strain in losing his quarter-final to Fernando Gonzalez and at the same stage in 2010 he retired mid-match against Andy Murray with an injured knee. A hamstring problem contributed to his quarter-final defeat by David Ferrer the following year and 12 months ago an injured back scuppered his chances of beating Stan Wawrinka in the final.
Roger Federer was also in physical discomfort, though the world No 2’s pain did not extend beyond the little finger of his racket hand. It was still enough of a problem, however, for the doctor to come on to the court after Federer had lost the first set to Italy’s Simone Bolelli. The Swiss snapped at a cameraman who sought a close-up of the digit in question.
“It felt like a bee stung me,” Federer said after his 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory. “I was like: ‘This can’t be possible.’ I’d never had this pain before. Thankfully, it wasn’t so bad at the end.”
Two of Australia’s three most exciting youngsters survived to fight another day with victories over battle-hardened opponents. Nick Kyrgios, aged 19, beat the No 23 seed, Ivo Karlovic, 7-6, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, while 22-year-old Bernard Tomic beat the No 22 seed, Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 7-6. Thanasi Kokkinakis, aged 18, went down 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 to a fellow Australian, Sam Groth.
If there is a female equivalent of Nadal it must be Maria Sharapova, who has dug herself out of trouble on countless occasions. She did so again here to beat her fellow Russian, Alexandra Panova, a qualifier ranked No 150 in the world.
Sharapova went 4-1 down in the final set and saved two match points with thumping forehands at 5-4 before completing a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 victory. “When other things aren’t working, maybe the mental side of things will help you out,” Sharapova said afterwards. “Until the very end I still try to dictate, I still try to find my way.”